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    Entries in airlines (5)


    Notes From the Road #21 - Friendly Skies Edition

    I was waiting for an early morning flight today (on Delta, the best airline in the world), and heard a gate announcement from across the terminal for a United flight that was also soon to depart. The United gate agent was seeking volunteers to give up their seats on the 6AM flight to Chicago and take a later flight. With everything that has been in the news about the recent problems United has had with overbooking and removing passengers from flights, I couldn't help but wince a little as I heard the announcement. And I wasn't even on the flight. Nor that airline. Just the stench of what has been going on at United wafted across to my Delta gate. Aside - my Delta flight also was seeking folks to volunteer their seats as well. Must have been a big day to get out of Rochester today.

    But the announcements this morning, and the United follies of late made me think I hadn't done a 'Notes' post in a while, and since I KNOW you must have been waiting, on edge, for me to share my thoughts on the United stuff and air travel in general, here are my frequent flyer informed Top 10 observations/comments on the current state of the friendly skies...

    1. On the United stuff - pretty much everyone was at least partially in the wrong there. United operations should have a better plan to get its employees where they need to be. United gate staff and on-site managers should have had more leeway to increase the compensation on offer in order to coax the desired number of passengers from the flight. Airport/aviation security should have found some other way to accomplish the de-planing of the passenger that did not involve concussions and a busted up face. And finally, despite the unfairness of it all, the passenger in question, once three airport security staff boarded the plane and requested he de-plane, had to comply. He should have been mad. He probably should have dropped a F-bomb or two. But he should have left the plane and taken up his case back at the gate. On board an aircraft trapped with 100 other folks in close quarters who have nothing to do with this incident is no place to decide to hold your own sit-in protest. 

    2. I think an underrated element of the air travel experience is the newness of the aircraft itself. The plane I am on now is really, really new seeming. It almost has that new plane smell still. Creates such a positive feeling right from boarding when the plane is new(ish), and not one of those dreary, run-down, relics from 1987. 

    3. I know this is easy to forget, but another thing that would make the overall experience better is for everyone to realize that you are not the only person on this flight, and unless you are the pilot, you are also not the most important person on this flight. You know what? We all have connections to make! We all sat through the turbulence over Colorado. We all had to endure the four hours to LAX with the terrible wifi. Treat everyone nicely, we are all in this misery together.

    4. But given that we are all miserable, we can't take that out on the individual employees of the airline - gate agents, flight attendants, customer service folks - any of them. Ninety-five percent of the airline staff are giving their best effort to get us where we want to go - safely, on-time, and as comfortably as conditions, (which none of them created) allow. Sure, can an airline worker have a bad day? Be rude? Of course. But so can the guy at the gas station, the clerk at the DMV, and the passenger in Seat 17C who keeps hitting the call button to ask for another ginger ale. 

    5. Air travel is a volume business. Delta, American, Southwest, and United, (the Big 4), might carry 125 million passengers each year. If they are lucky, they will make $6 of profit on each passenger (it is often less). So even if you think your $1700 fare to SFO was really expensive, the airline barely makes enough to cover the costs of getting you there. So like your local grocery store, volume and thin margins is how airlines make money. I think some of the disconnect in the air travel experience is we see our fares as big-ticket purchases, but the airline sees us all as contributors of $6 to the bottom line.

    6. It is never a good idea to argue with the TSA. See point #4 - the person manning the scanner or waving the magic wand or doing the patdowns did not make the rules. The process is often ridiculous, but the time and place to make your stand is not at 5:30AM with 72 people in line behind you who just want to make their flights. Write your Congressperson if you don't like what goes on at airport security.

    7. No matter what scheme an airline uses to manage the boarding process, (line up with numbers, line up in groups, high status first/lower status next, etc.), boarding will be probably the worst aspect of the flying experience. This is mostly our, (the collective we) fault. We lug too many things on the plane, we can't count rows, we have to position phones, tablets, e-readers, magazines, boxes of Good n' Plenty just so at our seats before we sit down. Just please, for the love of all that is holy, stash your bag under the seat, don't try to stuff the roller bag where it clearly will not fit, and just sit down. There is nothing more likely to make you weep for humanity than to watch 120 of us attempt to board a plane.

    8. You do not, under any circumstances, need to make a phone call telling someone 'We just landed' the SECOND after the wheels touch down. I promise you that call can wait 7 minutes until we are at the gate and getting off the plane. Trust me.

    9. Your bags will almost certainly not get 'lost' or even delayed. In 2015 the USA rate of lost luggage was about 3 per 1,000 passengers, a 10% reduction from 2014. Delta (and American I think) now allows you to track the movement of your checked bags via it's smartphone app. I get a little notification when my bag gets placed on the plane, when it is switched to my connecting flight, and when it is unloaded at the claim area. Will you be one of the 3 out of 1,000 who has an issue with your bag? There's a 99.7% chance you will not. So get over that one time in Indianapolis nine years ago when your bag went missing and it had to be delivered to the Fairfield Inn a couple of hours later. You were fine.

    10. There are going to be times where you miss your flight, when weather or mechanical issues cancel the flight, when you are stuck in a middle seat between two guys who are the size of a WWE tag team, or when there's a crying baby, no wifi, or the plane has run out of red wine. That is just how it is. But remember none of those things are happening to you, they are happening to all of us too.

    And it could be worse. Remember that 27 hour drive to DisneyWorld when you were a kid? And Dad threatened to turn the car around about 19 times? And your brother got car sick on your Keds?

    Think about that compared to that crowded, stuffy, 2 hour 32 minute flight where you watched Moana and had some honey roasted peanuts and a Sprite.

    That's it, I am out. Safe travels out there.


    Notes from the Road #18 - Semi-coherent thoughts edition

    Writing this as I work my way back from China and Hong Kong, (and I promise this will be the last blog post about this trip, it has just dominated the last two weeks such that I pretty much have nothing else to write about). I am about 20 hours in to the trip back home, and in what is certainly not the most awesome news of the day, the last leg of the journey is looking to be about 3 hours late, which puts me home at something like 2 in the morning. That is if I even get home, these kinds of late night delays have a funny way of becoming cancellations. So I am pretty much punchy at this point, not completely sure of basic things like, 'Is it day or night?' and 'Where did I pack my souvenir Chairman Mao statue?'

    The trip was a really great experience though, despite the hassles of travel and the distances involved - there is something kind of cool and exhilarating (and sometimes a little dicey), when you are forced out of the comforts and familiarity of home or of the other places you have already seen a few dozen times. I love going to Las Vegas, but it is not exactly a mentally challenging trip if you get my meaning. Navigating Beijing traffic, even from the back seat of a cab, proved to be an exercise that demanded careful planning and attention. And a little bit of luck as well. The most common response from a Beijing cab driver when presented with a request to take us someplace was 'I don't know where that is', followed closely by 'No.' But with the help of the incredibly attentive staffs at a couple of Marriott hotels we were using for the trip, we managed to get everywhere we needed to - eventually.

    But overall, it was a fantastic learning experience, and one that I would recommend anyone should attempt at least once. Walking along (and up) the Great Wall of China was something I am sure I will never forget, and something I probably never thought I would ever do.

    Some other random updates as I am really fading in and out of coherent thought at the moment - I am still behind catching up on messages and emails from the trip. Having most of my productivity type apps unavailable in mainland China was kind of a drag. So if you are waiting to hear back from me on something, I should be caught up by Friday or so. That is assuming I can figure out what day that is.

    Also, really bummed that due to various travel obligations that this year The 8 Man Rotation crew were not able to attend the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. We have, have, have to make sure we get back there in 2016.

    And last, look for some new HR Happy Hour Shows very soon, both Trish McFarlane and I have been on the road so much lately, but we plan on getting back in the podcast groove soon.

    Ok, that is it, I am out. (Hopefully getting out of Minneapolis soon).


    Notes from the Road #16 - ALL CAPS EDITION

    Submitting this brief dispatch from Delta Flight 2316 to Las Vegas where I am heading to attend, cover, and moderate a session at the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference this week. For folks who might not know this, I live just outside of Rochester, NY, a fine place to live for many reasons, but like many mid-size cities in the US, suffers from a lack of direct flights to many popular destinations. It was this circumstance that had me on my first flight of the day - a 6:10AM early morning short hop to Detroit, where I caught the aforementioned flight to Vegas.

    The flight from Rochester to Detroit is short, maybe an hour of total flight time. Add in a few minutes taxiing out and the total time for the flight might have clocked in at about 1:10 this morning. Thanks to the fine, fine folks at Delta, I was upgraded on ROC - DTW flight, in seat 2A. Seated next to me in 2B was your perfectly typical, perhaps stereotypical 'business guy sitting in first class' person. He had the look, the manner, the tech, (iPad and iPhone) of a corporate VP-type. Maybe in consulting, maybe in sales, hard to say for sure, but definitely someone pretty high on whatever food chain in which he resides.

    So (finally) here's the point of the story. For the entire 1:10 minutes we were on the plane from ROC - DTW the guy in 2B wrote emails, starting on the iPhone, switching to the iPad once airborne, then back to the iPhone again once we landed. Non-stop email.  I mean not one minute he was not emailing. It was an impressive feat of email stamina.

    But that was not the most interesting thing about the guy in 2B. Everyone one of his emails, at least every time that I snuck a peak to my right, was typed in ALL CAPS. EVERY EMAIL WAS IN ALL CAPS.

    Insane, right?

    Can you imagine being a person on the receiving end of one of Mr. VP's all caps emails that was sent from a plane at 6:05AM? I have to think anyone who received one of those this morning could not have been all that excited about that prospect.

    Look, everyone knows that emailing in all caps is akin to shouting at someone, and you should never do it. But I think it indicates more than just bad email etiquette. It flags you as having just about no self-awareness, no understanding of what kind of impact you're having on folks, (especially if you are the boss, like I suspect Mr. 2B is). 

    I couldn't not stop thinking about Mr 2B's staff when they fired up their email this morning. They had to have been hoping they'd have a quiet day, since 2B was on a 6:00AM flight and would not be around today to bug them. Instead, they likely received an ALL CAPS blast before they got their coffee.

    Work can sometimes be a drag. In fact, it often can be a drag. It sometimes is hard to tell why. But guys like Mr. 2B are certainly not helping matters.

    If you work for Mr. ALL CAPS guy I feel for you today. Hang in there.


    From the Friendly Skies: A Lesson in Workforce Planning

    Here is what can happen in an industry when labor market conditions, regulatory changes, shifting compliance requirements, are mixed with a generous dose of a 'Just like the Republicans we should have seen this coming' demographic shift.

    Check this out from the Wall Street Journal this past weekend - 'Airlines Face Acute Shortage of Pilots':

    U.S. airlines are facing what threatens to be their most serious pilot shortage since the 1960s, with higher experience requirements for new hires about to take hold just as the industry braces for a wave of retirements.

    Federal mandates taking effect next summer will require all newly hired pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of prior flight experience—six times the current minimum—raising the cost and time to train new fliers in an era when pay cuts and more-demanding schedules already have made the profession less attractive. Meanwhile, thousands of senior pilots at major airlines soon will start hitting the mandatory retirement age of 65.

    Another federal safety rule, to take effect in early 2014, also will squeeze the supply, by giving pilots more daily rest time. This change is expected to force passenger airlines to increase their pilot ranks by at least 5%. Adding to the problem is a small but steady stream of U.S. pilots moving to overseas carriers, many of which already face an acute shortage of aviators and pay handsomely to land well-trained U.S. captains.

    It's a proverbial 'perfect storm' for the airlines, and not the familiar kind that simply traps passengers for hours on the tarmac waiting for a gate, but rather the kind from which there are no obvious or simple answers and remedies.  The workforce is aging, the requirements for new entrants are getting even more rigorous, the training or feeder systems for new replacements are drying up, (the piece cites some disturbing statistics about a dramatic drop-off in flight school training program participation), and global competition for scarce talent is driving up the salaries for many current pilots, making them much more likely to at least consider opportunities outside the USA.

    This story is about airline pilots, truly probably always a pretty tough role to source for and fill, but increasingly we will see versions of this story playing out in other industries as well.  It isn't just experienced airline pilots that are getting ready to retire - it is engineers, skilled tradespeople, teachers, HR bloggers - no class of workers is immune.  And I certainly don't need to remind anyone of the ongoing drama and saga about the 'skills gap' - a topic for another day but relevant to this discussion as a reminder that an aging workforce is just one of many challenges facing the talent professional in the coming years.

    Last week I had a post on some trends shaping global people management, and in that post we talked about how it was surprising and disappointing that adoption of 'Web 2.0' modern and social technologies was rated incredibly low in importance and relevance by global HR and business leaders.

    One of the commenters (rightly) pointed out that the better story was another of the 'trends' that was also ranked extremely low in importance - 'Managing an Aging Workforce.' I think the airline pilots piece in the WSJ helps to reinforce that point and to remind us all, (as if we really needed a reminder), that while business, strategies, customers, technologies, and markets are constantly changing and are usually unpredictable - that one factor in this volatile planning mix is pretty constant and reliable. 

    Everyone in your organization is getting a little bit older each day. And some days it feels worse than others.

    Hopefully the airlines will make the needed changes and adopt new strategies to meet their resource needs - and hopefully it will give the rest of us a bit of a warning that we may not be as secure in our talent plans and sourcing strategies as we think for the time when our folks start to retire.


    Notes From the Road #6 - Accountability in the Air

    The scene was the start of the cross-country Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta - San Francisco. As the last few passengers were getting settled, the head flight attendant commenced her normally familiar and standard set of pre-flight announcements. You know these standard flight safety announcements, you tune them out just like I do - I mean what person alive is actually not familiar with how a seat belt is fastened?

    But on this flight - the announcements were different and distinctive. No, not for being all that clever or funny, like sometimes are found on Southwest Air flights, but for being more real, personal, and accountable that most. 

    Before launching into the speech about the faster seat belt light and turning off cell phones, the flight attendant said something along the lines of this:

    'I know that you many of you may find air travel frustrating or stressful or too expensive. I know what people sometimes write or say about flying on our airline. I understand that feeling sometimes myself. But I want to let you know that it is my personal responsibility to make this flight an enjoyable one for you, and to take some of that stress and frustration away. So if and when you need something, you let me know, and I will take care of it.'

    What I loved about the speech, apart from the sincerity from which it was delivered, (you kind of had to be there to get that sense), was that the flight attendant talked in first person, using 'I' and 'me' in her statements, rather than the softer and more general 'we' or 'us'. She was not suggesting that the other flight attendants on the flight did not share her desire to make the flight a successful and enjoyable one, but rather she was taking personal ownership and accountability for results. It is a small thing, but I thought it stood out, and to me it was pretty refreshing.

    And as the 5-hour flight passed, from what I observed she backed up that statement with her performance. Cheerful, attentive, professional all the way. I think demonstrating some of the best leadership I've seen in action in a long time. 

    Recognize the issues, take ownership, have a plan, be personally responsible, and then follow through.

    Very cool and a definitley helped make a Sunday night cross-country flight much better.

    Have a Great Weekend!